Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mothers in the Brave New World

I should begin by stating that I believe I read the works for this week in the wrong order. That is to say, I didn’t read Gloria Anzaldúa’s, relatively less lyrical but bitingly insightful “Towards a New Consciousness” first. Thus, coming to it, as I was with “Borders” and “Who’s Irish” on my mind, I was able to have some questions clarified but inevitably had to return to the King and Jen in order to crystalize the answers. The consequence is that I’m left that undoubtedly the most poignant aspect of these three works is the way in which they deal with feminism, or more accurately women and even more specifically, mothers, in the postcolonial world.
Anzaldúa speaks of the internal struggle that accompanies a severely mixed heritage, the guilt, the privilege and the ever threatening limbo one must push back against. However, she addresses the issue specifically as a woman (note her early declaration “I am a border woman” (Anzaldúa 3), something that I have not yet seen in this class. That isn’t to say that women haven’t played an important role but the one instance where a woman is the narrator (Potiki) her internal perspective, by virtue of both her intrinsically aloof nature and the fact that the novel does not set out to delineate Woman’s problem in the postcolonial world but a community’s, is heavily diluted. The reader is not granted access to what she feels specifically as a woman.  
That isn’t the case in the two works of fiction read this week. There are no men who are forced to assimilate in these stories and those who mentioned tend to function as distant, influential, white hands that unfeelingly nudge the action one way or another. Their perspective takes a back seat to the women’s and the stories that emerge are richly laden with what it means to be the ever patriarchal, postcolonial universe in a way that is (for this class) unprecedented.
Each story, notably, deals in some significant part with the relationship between a mother and a daughter. Each story is told by a somewhat naive, might I say dopey, narrator who often fails to notice things that directly involve her (and possibly him I’m not sure what gender is narrating “Borders”). Each story features a strong willed female who does her utmost to not capitulate to the demands of a foreign culture. Who is only drawn out of her own by another woman and this is where the two stories diverge. In “Borders”, the narrator’s mother visits Salt Lake City in order to see her daughter but eventually she returns home and there’s really never any question that she will. Her daughter too, remembers her home, doesn’t love Salt Lake City so much (though I have to say there are better places to utilize in order to give mainstream America a shot) and it’s implied that she will return home eventually. The culture remains autonomous.
By contrast, in “Who’s Irish” the narrator, she who stoically retains her culture in the face of her daughter’s abandonment, doesn’t so much abandon her culture as take on another and blur the lines between the two rendering the notion of cultural purity that are almost sacred in “Borders” seriously blurred.
Hence, the portrait of two different women are painted, one who is open minded but unwilling to capitulate, the other who is perhaps narrow minded but absolutely willing to the baby steps of assimilation.  This sparks the fascinating question of how the two cultures from which these women hail contributes to their own world views. But, as something that can be applied more universally, I submit that the mothers are able to leave their culture only as their daughter is. They fiercely protect the hearth as long as their young may need a place to return but if the cub flees and doesn’t look back, they then can leave. A poignant example of their dedication and their perception of their role in this, the brave new world.

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